Reengaging young people requires more than just reopening schools. Physical presence is not the same as engagement. Stripped of the opportunities for relationships, routines, and resources that come along with school attendance, many teens disengaged from online learning to prioritize other responsibilities and relationships. Rather than placing blame on young people for not connecting where we expected them to, we should ask them where they were connecting and why. That will require listening to and engaging with young people differently. Below are links to a curated set of tools and resources to help you do just that.

The National Urban League (NUL) recently hosted a series of Listening Sessions with youth about their experiences with learning and development over the past year. You can use their interview questions with young people in your community. NUL also has established a Youth Council to provide feedback and help guide their work. If youth aren’t already involved in governance and leadership of your organization, you should consider setting up a similar structure.

In Iowa, Youth Action Squads are focused on responding to the dual pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism. You can find out more here about how to replicate their approaches for talking about interrelated issues and experiences in your community. Also, the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board has done a YouTube series of questions asked by youth and answered by health professionals. A major aspect of listening to youth differently is investing the time and dollars needed to build the know-how, processes, infrastructure, and trust necessary to have solid, ongoing communication with youth rather than one-off opportunities for feedback.

The Search Institute offers a “Relationships Check” self-assessment to see where your relationships with important young people in your life are particularly strong and where they can grow. You can use this tool to generate actionable approaches and activities designed to strengthen relationships with young people.

4-H recently conducted surveys on mental health and racial justice with young people. They also put together a mental health survey toolkit for others to do the same. And they have a whole section of their website devoted to youth voices. You might consider ways that your organization can create a platform for young people to engage in advocacy and cultivate leadership skills to advance issues that matter most to them.

After School Matters in Chicago adapted youth survey tools to include scales on stress, food insecurity, and belonging in planning their response to COVID-19. They are working closely with AIR and more information is available here. AIR anticipates releasing a report in mid-February.

The Opportunity Project in Tulsa recently conducted virtual focus groups with middle school youth and made a video about the project.

IEL recently produced a Listen to Us  conversation guide about the barriers that young people with disabilities face during COVID-19 and what adults can do to help.

Changing the odds for young people has never been more important